Jay Colker – How to help employees more easily adapt to change

Jay Colker, core faculty, Adler School of Professional Psychology

Businesses must change in order to maintain a competitive advantage.

However, employees at any level can become an impediment to change as John Kotter noted in a 1995 Harvard Business Review article on leading change and why efforts may fail. The problem is employees might not understand why they need to do things differently and what the benefits of the change will be.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your entire organization supports necessary change:

Understand the dynamics of change

Be aware of the stages that people tend to experience throughout the change process so you can effectively guide your employees. Jeanie Daniel Duck noted the following significant stages in her 2002 book, “The Change Monster.”

* Getting stuck in old thinking

* Recognizing the need to change

* Preparing for and implementing
the change

* Following through with gains made

Unless you address feelings and concerns of employees in each of the above stages, any desired changes will likely fall short.

Adopt effective leadership approaches

Leaders who tend to take a nonproductive approach, such as what we’ll call “The Winner” or the “The Avoider,” have to be aware of how their actions can affect their employees’ ability to accept the change.

The winner will take an attitude of winning at any cost and impose his or her authority on employees. It is better, instead, to focus on the process of building and maintaining relationships with employees. This approach will highlight the importance of the change and build collaboration.

On the other hand, the avoider will not want to make any waves. This risk-averse approach discourages employees who want to align with a progressive organization. Be up front and straightforward with employees about the upcoming transition.

Keep employees informed

As you develop your leadership strategy for the change, remember that open communication is crucial. Employees at all levels need to see and hear from senior executives to believe the change is important.

Employers should continue to promote and discuss the change, even after there is support from employees. This will help sustain the high level of energy and excitement needed for the change to be successful.

Align people of influence

Though it’s your responsibility to lead the change, it’s not all on you. Employers should engage respected leaders and other influential team members. If leaders take the time to sell the value and the benefits of the change to influential people, their support can help lower resistance from more hesitant employees.

Don’t assume which leaders will easily accept the change and which ones will combat it. The employees whom you think are least likely to accept the change might become your best allies.

Make the change sustainable

Finally, if you do not build the change into processes that ensure a consistent and routine approach, then old habits might resurface. It is important that employees do not see this change as the flavor of the month, but rather as a lasting one that will improve the long-term success of the company.

Change won’t happen right away. But with dedication, focus and clearly outlined strategies, you can cross the finish line with your employees at your side.


Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA is core faculty for the master’s in counseling and organizational psychology program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Colker also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at [email protected] or at (312) 213-3421.